How to Protect Yourself If You've Had Unprotected Sex

How to Protect Yourself If You’ve Had Unprotected Sex

Unprotected sex, although typically not planned, can happen. Maybe you missed a day or two taking your birth control pill or you had sex without a condom or barrier of protection. If you or a friend find yourself in a situation like this, the first step would be to call your primary care provider who will help you to find the best solution to reduce your risk of pregnancy. Today, we’ll answer your burning questions about your options after having unprotected sex. 

What are my emergency contraceptive options?

The Morning-After Pill

This is a popular choice after having unprotected sex as it can significantly reduce your risk of pregnancy. It’s a hormone-based medication that can delay ovulation (ovaries releasing eggs which will then be fertilized by a sperm). These are readily available over-the-counter at most pharmacies; you will likely see Plan B which is a popular brand of morning-after pills. There are also more effective pills that may be a better fit for your particular situation but these will most likely require a prescription.

Copper Intrauterine Device (IUD)

The copper IUD is a hormone-free, long-acting reverse contraception. When used as birth control, it can remain effective for up to 12 years but it can also be used as emergency contraception as it prevents your eggs from being implanted in the uterus. If you are interested in having an IUD inserted, give us a call!

How effective are these emergency contraception options?

The copper IUD is the most effective, preventing unplanned pregnancies for 99% of users. If taken within the first 72 hours after having unprotected sex, Plan B is about 75-89% effective but becomes less effective in women who weigh 155 pounds or more. The ‘ella’ morning-after pill can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex and is 85% effective and not dependent on your weight. 

How long after unprotected sex should I use emergency contraception?

The short answer: the sooner, the better. The length of time is completely dependent upon which method you choose but in most cases, emergency contraception is effective if taken within 3 days while ‘ella’ is effective up to 5 days after unprotected sex. The IUD has the longest grace period with effectiveness up to 7 days after sex. But the sooner you take the contraceptive method of choice the better so don’t delay. 

Will I be able to get pregnant later?

There have been no studies that have produced results that morning-after pills or copper IUDs have negative effects on future pregnancies. You can take them as needed, keeping in mind that, aside from the IUD, they should not be used as a replacement for regular birth control. 

Are there side effects?

The side effects that accompany morning-after pills are similar to those of birth control pills and are typically not something to worry too much about. You may experience some of the following side effects:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Spotting between periods
  • Heavier bleeding during your period
  • Cramps
  • Breast tenderness
  • Lightheadedness

These side effects typically go away after a few days but if you experience them consistently after taking emergency contraceptive, speak to your primary care provider. 

Bodily Changes You Can Expect While Pregnant pt. 2

Bodily Changes You Can Expect While Pregnant pt. 2

Last month, we wrote about sensory changes, hormonal changes, and changes in the breasts and cervix that can impact a woman during pregnancy. Upon writing that article, we knew we wanted to write a more comprehensive guide to what you might experience during pregnancy so that you’re ready for all the possible changes that you may go through.

Respiratory and metabolic changes

Pregnancy causes an increase in the amount of oxygen transported in the blood due to the increased demand for blood and the dilation of blood vessels. The growth forces an increase in metabolic rates during pregnancy. 

Metabolic rate

The amount of energy the body expends while at rest increases dramatically during pregnancy. It’s important to monitor this rate, the resting metabolic rate (RMR), in order to estimate the amount of energy intake required to maintain or gain weight. The change in this rate is why pregnant women need to increase calorie consumption. 

Changes in body temperature

A slightly higher core temperature is a common sign of pregnancy and will be maintained through the duration of the pregnancy. Women will also notice a higher need for water as they are at greater risk of hyperthermia and dehydration and need to be cautious to remain hydrated.

Breathing and blood oxygen levels

A pregnant woman moves 30-50% more air in and out of her lungs than a woman who is not pregnant due to 2 factors: 1) Each breath has a greater volume of air, and 2) The rate of breathing slightly increases. Even without exercising, these changes can cause shortness of breath. 

Changes in hair, skin, and nails

You will likely experience changes in the physical appearance of your skin while pregnant. Most are temporary (stretch marks, for example) while others can lead to permanent changes. 

Hyperpigmentation

The majority of pregnant women experience some sort of hyperpigmentation which consists of the darkening of the skin tone on parts of the body including the areolas, genitals, scars, and the linea alba, the dark line that forms down the middle of the abdomen. This occurs in women of every skin tone but it’s particularly common among women with darker complexions. 

Pregnant women may also experience a condition called melasma with the darkening of the skin on the face. This condition is worsened by exposure to the sun and its radiation so it’s essential to we broad-spectrum sunscreen daily during pregnancy. Melasma typically goes away after pregnancy. 

Changes in moles and freckles

The hyperpigmentation will likely also cause darkening in moles, freckles, and birthmarks but these changes are typically harmless. If, however, you do notice changes in size, color, or shape, you should visit a dermatologist or your OB. Most skin pigmentation changes will fade or disappear postpartum but changes in mole and freckle color are often permanent. 

Stretch marks

Nearly 90% of pregnant women will see stretch marks form on their bodies by the 3rd trimester as a result of the physical stretching of the skin and the effects of hormone changes on the skin’s elasticity. These most often form on the breasts and abdomen and while they will likely fade in color, they may never disappear fully. Stretch marks may itch so applying a cream can reduce the itchiness and deter you from scratching and potentially damaging the skin.

Changes in hair and nails

Hormone changes that occur during pregnancy can lead to excessive hair loss, particularly in women who have a family history of alopecia. Many women, however, experience hair growth and thickening at rapid rates and may even notice more hair growing in unwanted places, the face, arms, legs, or back for example. 

These are changes that typically return to normal after the baby is born but it’s common that women will continue experiencing hair shedding and loss up to a year postpartum. This happens because your hair follicles and hormone levels are trying to regulate themselves again now that they’re no longer under the influence of pregnancy hormones. 

Many women will also experience faster-growing nails while pregnant, due in large part to the prenatal vitamins that add to the growth hormones of pregnancy. This can also come with increased nail brittleness, grooves, keratosis, and breakage.

Circulatory system changes

Due to the rapid expansion of the blood vessels and increased strain on the lungs and heart, women produce more blood during pregnancy and must, therefore, use more caution when exercising. They may experience the following during pregnancy:

  • Heavy breathing while exerting energy, like climbing the stairs or exercising
  • A feeling of dizziness when standing quickly
  • Changes in blood pressure

Blood pressure and exercise

Pregnancy hormones can have a sudden effect on the tone in blood vessels which results in that dizzy feeling or brief loss of consciousness that is relatively common among pregnant women. This is caused by the loss of pressure sending less blood to the brain and central nervous system. 

Dizziness and fainting

Dizziness is more common after the 24-week mark or earlier in multi-fetal pregnancies and conditions that increase amniotic fluid. Lying flat on the back compresses the large blood vessel that goes from the lower body to the heart which can cause a sudden and dramatic decline in blood pressure, causing dizziness or loss of consciousness. 

To avoid this, we recommend that after the first trimester, avoid exercises that require lying on the back. Lying on the left side may help relieve dizziness and is a good position to sleep in. If you are consistently experiencing dizziness or fainting, you should consult with your doctor.

How to Distinguish Between Postpartum Depression vs Postpartum PTSD

How to Distinguish Between Postpartum Depression & Postpartum PTSD

New chapters in life can be exciting, but change can also cause anxiety. Think about getting a new job – it’s a great opportunity, hopefully with more pay and in line with what you want to do long-term, but there’s a lot of uncertainty. Will you get along with your coworkers? Will you learn the systems quickly and efficiently? Will your boss be nice or harsh? 

Now multiply those uncertainties – and your responsibilities for them – by ten thousand. With the excitement of bringing a new child into the world, there’s immense pressure to not only keep your child healthy but raise them right. 

This is only the most obvious challenge of giving birth. Few folks take into consideration the intensities of labor on the body and the shift of focus from mother to baby. Any small complication with the child or even the labor plan can cause immense anxiety and stress.

Not to mention, anything less than the explosion of love and affection outsiders ensured you’d feel after birth might make a woman immediately question her mothering skills and feel some sort of postpartum depression.

While usually tied into one neat, trauma-filled, anxiety-ridden package, postpartum PTSD and postpartum depression are completely different. Women may experience either, both, or neither. If left untreated, P-PTSD can easily lead to postpartum depression.

What are the symptoms?

There are lots of symptoms the diagnoses share, but there are plenty that separate them, too. Here’s a breakdown of the symptoms:

Specific to PD (postpartum depression):

  • Intense hopelessness and sadness
  • Obsessive worrying or severe anxiety
  • Intrusive thoughts of self-harm or harm to the baby
  • Guilty feelings or thoughts of worthlessness 
  • Change in appetite (not eating enough or overeating)

Specific to P-PTSD (postpartum PTSD):

  • Being easily startled
  • Nightmares and flashbacks that are recurring
  • Avoiding the baby and anything related to birth
  • Aggression and irritability 
  • Panic attacks 

Symptoms PD and P-PTSD share: 

  • Withdrawing from social interaction
  • A strain on personal relationships
  • Insomnia 
  • Difficulty with or no desire to bond with the newborn

How common are these disorders?

Studies show that full-blown P-PTSD affects 3-7 percent of women, but around 30% of women suffer some sort of PTSD after birth. Increased circumstances can occur if the baby has a medical condition, is rushed to the ICU, or is born prematurely. Non-planned changes that go against the mother’s birth plan such as a fast labor, c-section, lack of epidural, and even difficulties breastfeeding can cause stress and contribute to PTSD.

Postpartum depression is much more common, with a majority of women feeling some sort of “baby blues” directly after birth. 50-75% of women show signs of extreme sadness and anxiety within two weeks after delivery. This develops into a more long-term and severe depression for about 15% of women.

How long do they last?

Generally, both disorders can last anywhere from a few weeks to the first year of a child’s life. Of course, when left untreated, both disorders can draw guilt and stress out longer. 

If you feel like you may be experiencing one or both of these disorders, Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care has plenty of treatment and counseling options. Talk to your doctor about your options and what treatments might work best for you.

Remember, just like any big changes in life, you’ll get the hang of this major one! Never blame yourself for how you’re feeling, and never doubt your ability to be a mother. You’ve got this, and Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care is here to help.

Bodily Changes You Can Expect While Pregnant

Bodily Changes You Can Expect While Pregnant

It’s a well-known fact that pregnancy comes with a variety of changes to the body. But those changes can be the common and expected changes, like swelling and weight gain, to less common ones like changes in body temperature. We find it best to know what to expect which is why we will break down the changes you may experience during pregnancy

Sensory changes

Believe it or not, pregnancy can dramatically affect a woman’s sight, taste, and smell. 

Changes in vision

Although there is no precise explanation for why this happens, some women experience increased nearsightedness during pregnancy with vision returning after birth. Some changes that are common are blurred vision and discomfort with contact lenses while some women may be at risk for retinal detachment or vision loss, although these cases are much rarer. 

Changes in taste and smell

Often times during pregnancy, women have a higher threshold for sour, salty, and sweet tastes because many are afflicted by dysgeusia, a decrease in the ability to taste, which most commonly occurs during the first trimester. Generally, they regain full tasting capability after pregnancy. 

It’s no secret that pregnant women often have cravings and those cravings may vary from trimester to trimester. 

Pregnant women also report changes in their sense of smell, often described as a heightened sensitivity to odors. This can cause nausea for many women that experience it.

Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy

Pregnant women go through a sudden and dramatic increase in estrogen and progesterone levels. These changes in not only the amount but also the function of these hormones and a number of other hormones affect mood, aid in the development of the fetus, alter the effect of physical activity on the body, and create that “glow” everyone talks about in pregnancy. 

Changes in estrogen and progesterone

A woman will produce more estrogen during one pregnancy than during her entire life when not pregnant. The increase in estrogen supports the developing baby and transfers nutrients from the uterus to the fetus. 

Estrogen levels will increase steadily throughout the pregnancy and reach their peak in the third trimester. During the first trimester, the rapid increase in estrogen levels can cause the nausea that is often associated with pregnancy. During the second trimester, the increase in estrogen plays a role in the development of the milk ducts that cause the breasts to enlarge.  

Progesterone is the second hormone that plays a big role in pregnancy and these levels are also extremely high. These changes cause a loosening of ligaments and joints in the body and can cause organs to grow in size, which is how the uterus, normally the size of a pear is able to accommodate a full-term baby.

Greater risk of exercise injuries

With looser ligaments, a pregnant woman may be more prone to sprains and strains of the ankles and knees which can make exercising difficult. In addition, a pregnant woman will most likely experience a change in her posture. Her breasts have grown, her stomach becomes convex, and her back becomes more curved, all changes that can shift the center of gravity forward and cause her to lose her balance more often. 

Pregnant women also retain fluids and, as a result, experience swelling of the face and limbs which places another limitation on exercising. The increase in water weight accounts for a significant amount of weight gain during pregnancy. Here are our tips for reducing swelling:

  • Avoid caffeine and sodium.
  • Avoid standing up for long periods of time.
  • Rest.
  • Increase your dietary potassium intake.

Changes in the breasts and cervix

Hormonal changes also lead to physiological changes throughout the body that are preparing the woman’s body for pregnancy, giving birth, and breastfeeding

Changes in the breasts

Pregnant women’s breasts often undergo quite a few changes during pregnancy as the body prepares to produce and supply milk to the new baby. These may include:

  • Hormones that affect the skin’s pigmentation often darken the areola.
  • Stretch marks and veins may become more visible on the breasts, especially if they’ve grown rapidly.
  • The size of the nipple and areola will likely increase.
  • Small bumps may form on the areola.
  • Most women will start producing and sometimes leaking small amounts of a thick, yellowish substance (colostrum) during the second trimester.
  • Small lumps may form in the breast tissue indicating blocked milk ducts. If these don’t disappear after a few days of massaging the breasts and warming them with a washcloth, have a doctor examine it. 

Changes in the cervix

The cervix is the entrance to the uterus and must also undergo physical changes in order to prepare for pregnancy and labor. The tissue of the cervix will likely thicken and become more firm and glandular. It will then soften and dilate slightly from the pressure of the growing baby in the weeks before birth. 

In the early stages of pregnancy, the cervix produces a thick mucus plug to seal off the uterus which is later expelled in late pregnancy or during delivery. 

 

As leaders in our industry, Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care offers support before, during, and after pregnancy and together, we will walk through this time of big changes with you. 

What New Moms Need to Know About Breastfeeding

What New Moms Need to Know About Breastfeeding

Although breastfeeding is a natural process offering health benefits to both mother and baby, it certainly can come with its difficulties. There are several different areas where these difficulties might show up: getting your baby to latch on, ensuring she/he is getting enough milk, finding the right position that’s comfortable for both parties, etc. Here are the breastfeeding basics that every mother should know. 

Positioning Your Breastfeeding Baby

It’s likely that you won’t be a master at breastfeeding the first time, even the first several times you try. Don’t get discouraged! Instead, here are a few tips on how to position your baby and get them to latch on:

Cradle Hold

Place your baby’s head in the crook of your right arm (if you’re nursing from your right breast), so that your forearm is supporting the rest of the baby’s body. Hold your breast and squeeze so that the nipple points toward the baby’s mouth.

Football Hold

For this type of hold, tuck your baby’s legs under your arm on the same side as the breast you are feeding him or her on. Use that arm to hold your baby and the other hand to hold your breast to help your baby find your nipple.

Reclining Hold

Lay back on either a couch or bed with a pillow propping up your upper back, neck, and head. Place your baby tummy down so that he or she is lying vertically on your chest with their mouth just below your nipple.

Side-Lying Hold

Once again lying on either a couch or bed, prop a pillow underneath your head. Your baby should face you with his or her head level with your nipple.

Crossover Hold

If you’re nursing from the right breast, hold your baby’s head with your left hand and body with your left arm so that he or she is held across your body.

How to know if your baby is getting enough milk

We recommend solely breastfeeding for at least 6 months. The American Academy of Pediatrics infers that a new baby needs to be fed every one and a half to three hours.  The first week after your baby’s birth he or she should be gaining about an ounce a day. 

The way you are able to tell if your baby is getting enough food is by how many diapers you have to change. You should see about 5 to 6 wet diapers a day until your baby is 6 months old.  You can also tell by your baby’s mood after being fed; if he or she seems full and content, that is a likely sign that they are getting enough milk. 

Nutrition

It is important that as a breastfeeding mother you maintain a balanced diet and continue to take prenatal vitamins to help keep both yourself and your child healthy during the breastfeeding process. Breastfeeding nourishes your baby and strengthens their immune system.

You should be drinking six to eight glasses of fluids (water, juice, milk)  every day to produce enough milk to stay hydrated.  

You also may find that you need a little more food in your system to keep up the energy for breastfeeding, about 400 to 500 additional calories a day should be all you need. Opt for nutrient-rich foods when it comes to seeking these additional calories. You should also choose protein-rich foods like lean meat, eggs, dairy, and beans as these will help to fuel your milk production. Eating a variety of foods can actually change the flavor of your breast milk and help your baby to accept solid foods easier when the time comes.

What foods should a breastfeeding mom not eat?

The foods that you should be avoiding while breastfeeding are very similar to the foods you should not eat while pregnant. You should be especially cautious of the following:

  • Alcohol: No amount of alcohol in breastmilk is safe or healthy for a baby. If you do choose to drink, make sure to wait at least two to three hours before breastfeeding your baby.
  • Caffeine: Caffeine in your breast milk can interfere with yours and your baby’s sleep.  Avoid drinking more than two or three cups of caffeinated drinks a day.
  • Seafood: You should avoid eating seafood as excessive amounts of mercury in your breast milk can put your baby’s developing nervous system at risk.
Everything You Need to Know About Mammograms

Everything You Need to Know About Mammograms

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast that can be used not only to detect breast cancer in women that are showing no signs or symptoms of the disease but also to check for breast cancer in women after a lump or other sign has been found. There are two different types of mammograms: screening and diagnostic. 

What is the difference between screening and diagnostic mammograms?

A screening mammogram is done as a preventative measure in women who have not displayed any signs or symptoms of breast cancer because the x-ray images allow you to detect tumors that a physical screening may not. 

A diagnostic mammogram is used to check for breast cancer after a lump or other sign of breast cancer has been detected. Just like we mentioned in our Breast Cancer Awareness blog post, there are many other signs of breast cancer besides finding a lump. Some of these signs may include breast pain, thickening of the skin of the breast, nipple discharge, or changes in the size, shape, or appearance of your breasts. These signs can, however, also be related to benign conditions which is why a diagnostic mammogram is important to further evaluate changes that may have been found during a screening mammogram.

Both types of mammograms use the same machine. The major differences between the two are (1) the amount of radiation you will be exposed to is higher in a diagnostic mammogram because more x-ray images are needed to view the breast from multiple angles, and (2) diagnostic mammograms take longer to obtain than screening mammograms. 

What are the benefits of screening mammograms?

Early detection of breast cancer with screening mammography means that treatment can be started earlier, potentially before it can spread. This vastly increases the possibility of overcoming the disease. But we can’t talk about the benefits of screening mammograms without also talking about the risks that can come with them.

What are the potential hazards of mammograms?

Radiation exposure

Mammograms require radiation and, although it is in very small doses and results in low exposure, repeated x-rays have the potential to cause cancer. The benefits of mammography do almost always outweigh the potential harm from radiation exposure, however, you should speak with your health care provider about the need for continued x-rays. You should also be sure to disclose your potential of being pregnant with your health care provider and x-ray technician as radiation can be extremely harmful to a growing fetus.

False-positive results

A false-positive is when a radiologist sees an abnormality that could be a positive on an x-ray picture but there is no cancer present in reality. All mammograms that do find abnormalities should be followed up with additional testing to determine whether or not cancer is truly present. 

False-positive results are most common among younger women, women with dense breasts, women with a family history of breast cancer, women who have had previous breast biopsies, and women who are taking estrogen. 

False-positive mammograms can lead to anxiety and emotional and physical distress and the additional testing required to determine the presence or absence of cancer can be costly, time-consuming, and physically uncomfortable.

False-negative results

A negative result in cancer screening means no abnormality is present. A false-negative result gives the impression that the mammogram is normal despite the fact that breast cancer is present. This occurs most frequently among women who have high breast density and younger women because as women grow older, their breasts become more fatty which makes false-negative results less likely. 

A false-negative result can give a false sense of security and can delay treatment. 

I have breast implants. What can I do about screening mammograms?

While implants can hide some breast tissue and therefore make it difficult for a radiologist to detect an abnormality in the mammogram images, women with breast implants should still get regular mammograms. If you have gotten implants as a result of a mastectomy, ask your doctor whether or not they recommend a mammogram of the reconstructed breast. 

In either case, it is important that you let the mammography facility know that you have breast implants when you are scheduling your mammogram. This will let them know to take the necessary precautions to make sure that as much breast tissue can be seen on the mammogram as possible.

How to perform a breast self-exam

How to Perform a Breast Self-Exam

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, “Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam routine is very important.” As October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, we are discussing how to do a breast self-exam and why they are an important part of your normal routine. 

The importance of breast self-exams

Regular breast self-exams allow you to notice abnormalities or changes in your breasts that you need to discuss with your gynecologist. Breast self-exams are not, however, a substitute for a breast exam by your doctor or a screening mammogram. Gaining familiarity with the normal look and feel of your breasts can supplement breast cancer screening but it can’t replace it. This will increase the odds of early detection. 

How to perform a breast self-exam

While we will guide you through the techniques to use when performing a breast self-exam, you may find it helpful to ask your gynecologist for a demonstration. 

Choose a time in your menstrual cycle when your breasts are less tender and swollen. Your hormone levels fluctuate throughout the month but are especially high during your menstrual cycle which causes changes in breast tissue. The best time to perform a breast self-exam is usually the week after your menstrual cycle ends and you should try to do a breast self-exam at about the same time each month. 

Visual Examination

Start your breast self-exam by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your hands on your hips. During this inspection, you should do the following: 

  • Facing forward, look for puckering, dimpling, or changes in size, shape, or symmetry.
  • Changes in your nipples. This might include inversion or a change in position.
  • Lift each breast to see if the ridges along the bottom are symmetrical.
  • Raise your hands above your head and look for changes in the contour, swelling, or dimpling. 

Physical Examination

There are two common ways to perform the manual part of the breast exam:

#1: In the shower

We recommend performing the breast self-exam in the shower because the moisture on your skin will allow your fingers to glide smoothly over your breasts. Using the pads of your fingers and circular motions about the size of a quarter, move around your entire breasts from the outside to the center checking the entire breast and armpit area. During this process, you are feeling for any lumps, thickening, or hardened knots. 

#2: Lying down

When you’re lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly across the chest wall, making it thinner and an ideal position to perform your breast self-exam. Choose a bed or other flat surface, lie down flat, and place a pillow under the arch of your back. Once again using the pads of your fingers, use your left hand to make small circular motions around your right breast and your right hand to do the same on your left breast, covering the entire area from top to bottom and side to side – from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen and from your armpit to your cleavage. 

Alternate between applying light, medium, and firm pressure depending on the area: use light pressure for the tissue just beneath the skin, medium pressure for the tissue in the middle of your breasts, and firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back. 

General tips to bear in mind:

  • Use the pads, not the very tips of your middle three fingers, held flat and together to perform the breast self-exam. 
  • Take your time. This entire process may take several minutes but you want to perform a thorough and not rushed examination. 
  • Follow a pattern to ensure that you are examining the entire breast. 

When should you contact your gynecologist?

You should make an appointment with your gynecologist if you notice any of the following during a breast self-exam:

  • Dimpling, puckering, bulges, or ridges on the skin of your breast
  • A change in your nipple such as inversion or a change in position
  • Nipple discharge especially that which is yellow or blood
  • Changes in the way your breasts look or feel, including thickening
  • A hard lump or knot near your underarm
  • Itching, scales, sores, or rashes
  • Redness, warmth, swelling, or pain

While 8 out of 10 times a lump in your breast is not a sign of breast cancer, early detection significantly increases the chance of survival so if you detect any of the above changes, seek professional medical assistance. 

Give us a call at Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care to schedule an appointment: 757-455-8833.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Here's What You Should Know

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Here’s What You Should Know

Every year, 245,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, the second most common cancer in women, and more than 40,000 women die from the disease, according to the CDC. While breast cancer is far more common in women – 99% of the cases plaguing the population are in women – it can also affect men. As October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we want to ensure that you’re aware of the risk factors that could lead to breast cancer, the symptoms associated with it, and how to decrease your chances of a diagnosis

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a disease where the cells in the breasts grow out of control. There are different types of breast cancer and the type is dependent upon which cells in the breast become cancerous. 

Where does breast cancer form?

Breast cancer can begin in different parts of the breasts but most commonly it forms in the milk ducts, the tubes that deliver milk to the nipples. Cancer may also form in the lobules, which are the glands that produce the milk. Breast cancer can spread outside the breast through blood vessels and lymph vessels. 

Know the symptoms of breast cancer

Different people that are diagnosed with breast cancer may experience different symptoms while some may experience none at all. Some symptoms commonly associated with breast cancer include:

  • Nipple inversion or pain in the nipple area.
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.
  • Discharge from the nipple other than breast milk; this includes blood.
  • Changes in the size or shape of the breast.
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
  • A new lump in the breast or armpit.
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast. 
  • Pain in any area of the breast. 

While some of these symptoms could be associated with a condition that is not cancer, if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away. 

Reduce your risk for breast cancer

Your risk for breast cancer is due to a combination of factors, where the main ones that increase your risk include being a woman and getting older. Most breast cancers are found in women that are 50 or older while about 10% of new breast cancer cases are found in women younger than 45. Many factors over your lifetime can affect your breast cancer risk, some that you have no control over, your family history or age for example, while you have the ability to lower your risk by taking care of your health.

Breast cancer risk factors you cannot control

  • Aging: The risk of breast cancer increases as you age with most breast cancers diagnosed after the age of 50.
  • Menstrual cycle history: Women whose menstrual cycles started before age 12 and those who started menopause after age 55 have a higher risk of breast cancer because they are exposed to hormones longer. 
  • Family history of breast cancer: The risk for breast cancer is higher if a woman’s mother, sister, or daughter or if multiple distant relatives on either parent’s side have had breast cancer. 
  • Personal history of breast cancer or other non-cancerous breast diseases: Women who have had a history of breast cancer are more likely to get breast cancer a second time. 
  • Previous radiation therapy treatment: Women who have had radiation therapy on their breasts or chest before the age of 30 have a higher risk of breast cancer later in life.
  • Having dense breasts: Dense breasts means a woman has more connective tissue than fatty tissue which makes it more difficult to detect tumors on a mammogram. 
  • Genetic mutations: Women who have inherited genetic mutations to certain genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 have a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with breast and ovarian cancer.
  • Women who took the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES): DES was a drug given to pregnant women between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage. Women who took it or whose mothers took it while pregnant with them have a higher risk of breast cancer.

Breast cancer risk factors you can control

  • Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly, particularly after menopause. 
  • Breastfeeding your children lowers your risk of a breast cancer diagnosis. 
  • Getting pregnant for the first time after age 30, not breastfeeding, and never having a full-term pregnancy can raise breast cancer risk.
  • External hormones like birth control pills, oral contraceptives, and hormone replacement therapy have been found to raise breast cancer risk. Ask your doctor about the risks to find the best solution for you. 
  • Drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer. Limit alcohol intake to one drink a day or less. 

Get breast cancer screenings regularly

As we stated earlier, some women who are diagnosed with breast cancer don’t experience any symptoms at all, making it that much more vital that you get regular breast cancer screenings. A breast cancer screening involves checking a woman’s breasts for cancer before signs or symptoms of the disease manifest themselves. It does not prevent breast cancer but it can assist in finding breast cancer early and early detection makes it easier to treat. Talk to your doctor about the best time to start getting regular breast cancer screenings and which test is best for you. 

Living with Incurable STDs

Living with Incurable STDs

Learning that you have a sexually transmitted disease (STD) can certainly be a scary prognosis. Each infection comes with its own symptoms, levels of pain, and treatment options if they are available. Plus there’s always the task of telling your partner that you have a condition that could affect them too. Whether you think you have an STD or your doctor has confirmed it, it’s important that you learn as much as possible about your particular condition and whether or not there are treatment options to lessen or alleviate your symptoms. 

Before we discuss incurable STDs, it’s important to note that any person that is sexually active is at risk of contracting STDs making it that much more pertinent that you educate yourself and practice safe sex every single time. 

Incurable STDs and Treatment Options

There are sexually transmitted diseases that can be cured with antibiotics and medication but here we have compiled a list of those that stay with you for the rest of your life. 

HIV

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is probably the most well-known of all STDs and is a chronic disease that severely attacks the infected person’s immune system. If left untreated, it can develop into Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). With the development of AIDS comes a significant decline in your immune system’s ability to fight even the most minor infections, the common cold for example. 

HIV is spread through bodily fluids and can progress and spread quite rapidly through three stages: 

  1. Acute HIV infection: This refers to the first two to four week period after a person has been infected during which he or she is highly contagious exhibiting flu-like symptoms. Some people experience no symptoms at all or assume it is the flu, which is why it’s important that you get tested if you think you’ve been exposed. 
  2. Clinical latency: During this stage, the virus is still present and reproducing at a slow rate which can lead to the person feeling just fine. A person could live in this stage for several decades if he or she is undergoing proper treatment, lowering their chances of infecting someone else.
  3. AIDS: In this last stage, the immune system is so damaged that they’re unable to fight off even the most minor illness. When left untreated, AIDS typically leaves those infected with just three years to live. 

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the best medication to treat HIV and consists of a daily cocktail of several prescription pills. When taken every day, the medication can drastically prolong the life of someone affected by HIV, relieving their symptoms and lowering the chance of infecting others. With the introduction of the medication in the mid-90s, someone with HIV could live nearly as long as someone not affected by the virus. 

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis has five different varieties but type B is most commonly spread through sex and results in a liver infection. It’s the primary cause of liver cancer or cirrhosis (liver failure). Hepatitis B can be prevented with a vaccine but patients that contract the chronic infection have it for life. It’s highly contagious and can be transmitted through contact with semen, vaginal fluids, blood, and urine. Protect yourself with the Hep B vaccine and by practicing safe sex. 

Hepatitis B generally goes away on its own in four to eight weeks with symptoms often not manifesting and doctors recommending you rest, eat well, and drink plenty of fluids. However, one in 20 people who get it as adults become carriers, which means they will have chronic hepatitis B and will have the disease for life, although there are medications a doctor can provide to help treat it. 

HPV

While HIV may be the most well-known and feared STD, Human Papillomavirus is the most common. According to the CDC, approximately 79 million Americans are currently infected and nearly all sexually active men and women will contract HPV at some point in their lives. The problem with HPV and part of the reason that it’s so widespread is that the virus often goes undetected. Your partner may not show any symptoms and yet they can still pass the virus through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. 

This virus is one of the reasons that your annual exam is so important as abnormal cells in your cervix can indicate HPV or cervical cancer so make sure you’re scheduling an appointment with your gynecologist every year. 

The HPV vaccine is recommended for prevention. If you develop genital warts as a result of the virus, doctors may prescribe topical medicine or you can have them removed. If your doctor has detected cervical precancer as a result of your pap smear, prevention may still be possible if detected in its early stages. 

Herpes

Herpes is another virus that manifests in more than one type: there’s herpes simplex 1 which usually lives in the mouth in the form of cold sores and herpes simplex 2 which lives around the genitals. During an outbreak, fluid-filled blisters will appear and eventually break, causing painful sores for about two weeks. 

According to the CDC, 1 in 6 people in the US between the ages of 14 and 49 have genital herpes but over 80% of people with genital herpes are unaware that they have it. Herpes can be contracted through vaginal, anal, or oral sex and transmission is possible even without the presence of visible sores. 

If you are pregnant and think you might have been exposed to the herpes virus, you must let your OB-GYN know as soon as possible. The infection could result in a miscarriage, premature delivery, or neonatal herpes which can be fatal. 

Because sores often exist on the skin on and around the genital area, condoms are not 100% effective in protecting a person from contracting herpes, making it extremely important that you get tested. 

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea does respond to medicine, however, there is a fast-growing strain that is resistant to the antibiotic regimen long-used to treat gonorrhea. About 820,000 people get gonorrhea infections in the US each year. A person with gonorrhea may show no signs but symptoms can include discharge from the vagina or penis, vaginal bleeding between periods, painful or swollen testicles, and a painful, burning sensation when urinating. 

If you get tested and discover that you have gonorrhea, your doctor will prescribe a treatment that involves two different drugs to stop the infection. This treatment cannot undo any permanent damage that the disease might have caused up to this point. But as we stated earlier, the CDC says that the new drug-resistant strains threaten the medication’s effectiveness. If you find that your symptoms continue even after receiving treatment, it’s important that you inform your doctor immediately. 

Managing Incurable STDs

In addition to seeking proper treatment, it’s also important to seek proper support. Ignoring a sexually transmitted disease won’t make it go away; in fact, it could cause irreversible damage to your internal organs. In addition to that physical damage, it can also cause a substantial amount of stress. You may want to seek counseling or a support group and you should know there’s no shame in doing either; it’s important that you don’t feel isolated while going through treatment. 

And if you are sexually active and have not been tested recently, you should do so. After all, many STDs don’t have any symptoms and 50% of the population will have contracted one by the time they’re 25

If you potentially have been exposed to an STD, getting tested is the only way to know for sure and take steps to seek treatment. We don’t want you to take any risks when it comes to your health. To schedule your annual appointment with Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care, click here.

What You Should Know About Birth Control

What You Should Know About Birth Control

While most women have a basic working knowledge of birth control (meaning they know it’s used for contraception), there are many nuances within each type of birth control that make it the best choice for each individual and the other purposes it serves. So today we want to give you an overview of the most popular birth control methods, how they work, which method may work best for you and your needs, and reasons you might choose to use birth control aside from contraception

What are the most common birth control methods?

Condoms

Due to their easy accessibility, condoms are the most popular type of birth control and a preferred method of contraception for people who are not in monogamous relationships because they are effective at protecting from several sexually transmitted diseases. They are also great for reducing your chances of getting an infection from oral and anal sex. Because of this, condoms are often used in addition to other birth control methods that aren’t as effective in this area. But know that they are not 100% effective in protecting against STDs because they do not cover all vulnerable areas. No other birth control methods in this list will protect against STDs. 

Here are a few steps you should take to ensure that condoms are as effective as possible:

  • Don’t double up. It actually makes them less effective because the friction of the two rubbing together increases the chances of them breaking.
  • Always check the expiration date.
  • Wear the condom from beginning to end, not just when the male ejaculates.
  • Store them at room temperature.

Oral Contraceptives

More commonly known as The Pill, oral contraceptives are another popular and effective means of preventing pregnancy…as long as the woman remembers to take them at the same time every single day. With that being said, the pill may not be the best method for people who are forgetful because forgetting to take it greatly reduces its effectiveness. 

The pill works by preventing ovulation but like we said earlier, the pill is not going to protect you against STDs so it should be used in combination with condoms if you are in a situation where you could be vulnerable to STDs.

Intrauterine Device (IUD)

An IUD is a small piece of plastic, resembling a T, that releases hormones into your bloodstream that either prevent ovulation or block sperm from reaching an egg. 

They are a popular birth control method of choice for women who don’t wish to become a mother any time soon (or ever) because they can be inserted without the woman having to worry about birth control for several years. The span of time depends upon the brand of the IUD so you should discuss options with your gynecologist. They are also great for women who know that they won’t be able to remember to take oral contraceptives on a daily basis. 

The Patch

The patch is also a birth control method that controls your hormones and prevents pregnancy by blocking the ovaries from releasing eggs, increasing the thickness of cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching an egg, and causing the lining of the uterus to become porous so that, if fertilization does occur, the egg can’t implant in the uterus. The patch is placed on your skin and must be replaced weekly, available only via prescription. 

Emergency Contraception

More commonly known as “the morning-after pill,” this birth control method must be taken within 72 hours of having unprotected sex (or some other mishap occurred). The morning-after pill works by temporarily stopping the release of eggs from the ovaries. And if an egg has already been released, the pill can prevent that egg from becoming fertilized by sperm. 

The morning-after pill comes with the common misconception that it is an “abortion pill” but that is not the case; in order for an abortion to occur, a fertilized egg has to attach to the uterus. 

None of the birth control methods that we’ve listed above are 100% failproof. It’s important that along with obtaining birth control, you talk to your gynecologist about your overall health and practicing safe sex. There are side effects that come with hormonal alternatives like most birth control methods that can have adverse effects on your body, particularly if you are taking other medications. 

Besides contraception, what are other reasons that people get on birth control?

Some of the most common reasons women may decide to take birth control include:

Treat Acne

Many women with chronic acne who have tried many different types of face washes, ointments, and acne systems with no results will often turn to birth control. Birth control pills can reduce the production of sebum which in turn can decrease the number of breakouts a woman has. 

Treat Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is a hormonal imbalance that results in irregular periods that can manifest itself in unusually heavy menstruation, pelvic pain, and excessive body hair growth. Taking birth control pills can help to regulate your hormones and prevent these symptoms. 

Migraine Prevention

Migraines can be a premenstrual symptom for some women as they are a result of a drop in estrogen. Birth control pills can help to regulate those hormones and significantly reduce or even eliminate migraines that are related to PMS.

Treat Primary Ovarian Insufficiency

This condition, also known as Primary Ovarian Failure, occurs when a woman doesn’t produce enough estrogen for her ovaries to function properly and can result in irritability, vaginal dryness, and hot flashes in women under 40. The pill can once again help to regulate estrogen levels.

Ease Endometriosis

Endometriosis is when tissue, usually only found inside the uterus, starts growing outside the womb. During a menstrual cycle, that tissue is generally released with your period but if it grows outside of the uterus, it has nowhere to go and can cause immense pain or even infertility. Some contraceptives prevent pain that’s associated with endometriosis by preventing the growth of that tissue. 

Contact Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care for More Information on Birth Control Methods

We are confident that any questions you may have about birth control or other health-related inquiries, we have heard countless times and can help you find a solution for it. We work hard to establish great relationships with every single one of our patients and that starts here. Contact us to schedule an appointment.

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